My work has been consistently inspired by and been about nature…people’s relationship with nature…time spent outside…growing food…working outside…

Natalie Hinahara

Owner, Natalie Hinahara Art & Design

We chatted with Natalie Hinahara, painter, printmaker, and muralist living in Viroqua, WI. We talk about early life, painting large, the natural elements of the work and what is next for this artist.

La Crosse Local is proud sponsor of the La Crosse Winter Roots Festival.

Balancing Act.
Natalie Hinahara 01:12
My name is Natalie Hinahara. And I grew up in I guess kind of between Middleton and Cross Plains in Wisconsin. So just outside of Madison. Yeah, I think I was really lucky to grow up in a house and in a family with a lot of art. So really, just since I was little, I was always doing art. And it was always like really encouraged to something I feel pretty strongly about now as an adult is just that, like art, and music and dance are all things that we all like innately do and love when we’re young. And not everyone is, you know, encouraged to keep pursuing those things or not everyone is taught that those things are really important and valuable. And I feel like I was really lucky that I yeah, I was in a house where my love of visual art was really encouraged and celebrated. My grandpa was a commercial artist his whole life. And one of my uncle’s was a really prolific painter and a lot of sewers in my family. And so yeah, really just like always having art around on the walls in my home. And yeah, so I just always loved making art and just kept doing it. Since elementary school and younger, and then all through school, did a ton of art classes in high school, had a really great art teacher in high school. So a lot of just like, you know, being lucky as a young person to have great, great teachers and people around me who were really encouraging. I don’t think I would have continued with really pursuing art in a serious way without that encouragement. Like even when I was thinking about going to college. I wasn’t, even though art was always important to me, I wasn’t really thinking about studying art in school, just because it’s not the most obvious or like conventional path to go down as far as like thinking about having a job in the future and making money and all those things. But yeah, my art teacher in high school really encouraged me to consider it and my parents were, you know, encouraged me to do really what I wanted to do. So then, for undergrad, I studied fine arts and Environmental Studies at UW Madison. Pretty fun combination of getting to study, you know, hands-on studio art classes, and also taking classes in a different major, really about just about the world and food systems and other environmental issues. So, I guess some of the beginning of my art.

Brent Hanifl 04:08
So, you know, I could see some of that past interwoven with some of your, you know, your themes related to nature and things like that, you know. You work a lot with, you know, printmaking and wood carving and kind of a smaller scale. But I found out about you through Instagram, you know, seeing the mural project you had recently. How did those larger projects come about? That’s something you’ve done quite a bit of, or?

Natalie Hinahara 04:32
Yeah, that’s something I’ve just gotten into, in the time, you know, after after school after undergrad. I’ve been out of out of school for some years now. And I think I always had an appreciation for murals and an interest in doing like big public art projects and they’ve come about pretty organically. Like, I think I just would talk to friends or other artists. And when I saw people working on them, like in Madison, I would just like talk to them and kind of hear about what their experience was and how they got the opportunity to do that. And so the first mural project I did was in Madison, and it was like a group project, kind of organized by a student organization in a building on campus. And so they selected like 10, or 12, artists to all, like everyone got a different section of wall, it was an interior mural project. So that was the first one I got to do, which was really cool to get to kind of work alongside a bunch of other artists and we all had really varying levels of experience. For a lot of us, it was like our first mural project, but there were, at least a couple artists involved had done murals before. So that was kind of a cool way to you know, do a first mural but also kind of get to learn from just watching other people work on theirs. It’s just been kind of a combination of like talking to people and, you know, having my work out there. And other ways, like just my print, other printmaking and painting I do and then sometimes like a business owner will approach me and ask if I’m interested in doing one in their space. Like that happened at Schuggy’s in La Crosse, I did have like a mural on their floor. Now that I’ve done a handful of mural projects, it’s kind of just organically making connections and finding new projects that way. So I’m actually working on one right now in Viroqua where I live, which is like a pretty big outdoor mural that I’m working on with a couple of friends. So then once you start having some out there in the world, you know, easier to, to keep making those connections and finding new projects. So yeah, I’m hoping to keep doing more.

Brent Hanifl 07:04
Kind of peeling through your website here, looking at the line of cuts, you know, printmaking, those do seem like something that could easily be kind of enlarged to a wall size. How do you choose a theme? I mean, is it predominantly, you know, nature environment related?

Natalie Hinahara 07:20
Yeah, I think that is what my work has consistently, you know, been inspired by and been about is just like nature and people’s relationship with nature. Sometimes that takes the form of like specific, really specific plants. I’ve done some, I guess, I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the past, you know, 5 to 10 years in my adult life, I’ve always kind of had another job alongside my art. So sometimes that has influenced my work too. So I’ve worked on a couple different farms and so time, you know, just spent outside growing food, working outside or just doing you know, doing camping trips, biking around. Like, I’m just often I guess, thinking about what my personal role is, in this world and like just generally humans interaction with the natural world around us. And so art for me and I think for a lot of artists is a way to kind of explore those questions like what you know, whatever things you might be thinking about are struggling with making art as a way to just kind of reflect on those things and process them. And for me, I you know, you said something about my work having kind of a peaceful feeling. And I think it’s not super like intentional not like I want to make a piece of work that that is peaceful, but that I think when I’m when I’m making it, that’s kind of maybe what I need is like, creating an image or a scene that like is soothing to me, maybe you know. Like, in the face of all the things that are really hard in the world or the destruction that we see humans inflicting on the natural world, it’s like, helpful for me to also think about and remember that like, we can have really positive relationships with plants and with, you know, within a landscape and on land, like there are ways of interacting with nature that are really like good and beautiful. And it’s helpful for me to remember that. I guess what I’m thinking about a lot of the times comes out in my art through just yeah, lots of plants and sometimes landscapes and sometimes there’ll be figures, you know, like actual people in in landscapes or hands may be doing things, but yeah.

Brent Hanifl 09:59
How did COVID affect you? I mean, did it affect your work? I mean, I’m sure it did financially. But how did it affect you? Did any themes come out of it or anything you’ve learned from that experience?

Natalie Hinahara 10:08
I mean, I guess for everyone, it affected people in such different ways. But I think probably for everyone, it definitely had an effect of just like, kind of reevaluating, like, what really matters to you, and what are your priorities in life. And so there was for me, like, I got laid off from my part time non art job, like, immediately, when COVID you know, kind of hit here and in March of 2020. And for me, that was, you know, I know, for a lot of people got like, it was such a hard time. And I was in a kind of strange situation of it being kind of a good thing, because I was, all of a sudden, like, gifted all of this time, like I was just, I had been thinking about quitting that job and really focusing on my art, but it’s hard to make that leap as a self employed artist to like, walk away from the regular paycheck and just do arts. And so I hadn’t left that job yet. And then I got laid off. And I was like, well, I guess this is the push that I didn’t know I needed. But yeah, so it was kind of like a peaceful time, in some ways for me, because I just spent a lot of time I at the time lived out in the country. So I had just, like, lots of beauty around me, it was springtime, like the world is kind of like, you know, waking up and just taking a lot of just like walks. But of course, at the same time, like the world was feeling pretty scary. And a lot of people were suffering. So it was a pretty strange place to be in. So I didn’t make a lot of art for like that first, I feel like the first kind of intense six months of COVID. It was just pretty, like, overwhelming to you know, just like, be aware of all the stuff that was going on in the world. Yeah, it was a disruption, I guess it was a disruption for everyone. And for me, it was like, kind of an opportunity to decide, okay, how do I really want to be spending my time and so now I’m, you know, really, for the first time art is, I guess, a primary thing in my life. It’s always kind of been like, it’s genuinely been the thing that second to a more primary job. So now I’m really able to focus on art. And then I do a little bit of teaching, that’s like, my other kind of side thing connected to art. But I do some teaching, you know, actually teaching art too, you know, and like, all the events were canceled for 2020. There were some I was really looking forward to but it was kind of a relief in a way to just have like, everything wiped clean, and no commitments all of a sudden, like, there was some sadness there. But it was like this feeling of just relief and openness, and just being able to like, just spend more time by myself just making art not thinking about making art like to sell or making art for other people just like, yeah, it was a weird combination of hard and good.

Brent Hanifl 13:23
Yeah, it’s like that fear of missing out thing, but everyone was missing out. So it didn’t really matter at all.

Natalie Hinahara 13:28
Yeah, it’s like, so weird, because people were affected really differently. But we were all going through something, you know.

Brent Hanifl 13:37
You know, kind of coming out of this COVID experience. What are you excited for, you know, over the next year or two, you kind of talk about kind of change in your perspective in terms of your work and stuff like that, what’s, what are you excited for?

Natalie Hinahara 13:50
I’m excited for a lot of things right now, it feels like things are, even though we’re still dealing with COVID in a pretty big way, like, things are kind of coming back together in terms of just like events being organized. And I actually participated in a big event just this last weekend in Madison and like, that just felt so good to see people again, like see a large, you know, large groups of people coming through and looking at your work and talking about it. So it feels like things are going to be happening again, which is exciting. So I’m excited to do you know, hopefully, a couple like big events, kind of fair type things next summer. I’ve got another mural project for sure lined up for next summer, which is really exciting. And yeah, teaching. I’m doing more this year than I have in the past. There’s an independent high school in Viroqua, so I get to teach there. But I’m also hoping to do some like, just general like community workshops and workshops for adults around printmaking because I think there’s a lot of interest in that. And there’s not there’s not a lot of, I don’t know, art kind of cool art programming offered for just general community members a lot of the time. So I’m hoping to do more of that. I’m also excited about the idea of traveling again, at some point, I’ve always wanted to do like an art residency somewhere. I’ve never done that there’s all different kinds and kind of different lengths of time that you can do. But I love to travel, that could be something I do just somewhere in the Midwest, or in a different state, or even in a different country. So I’m definitely thinking about like, yeah, art is such a wonderful tool for connection. And I’m definitely thinking a bit about like, yeah, looking for some art residency is just to keep learning, you know, always learning and trying new things.

Brent Hanifl 15:51
Yep. It’s always good to hit the road for a while, tune out, so. So if people want to find your work, or just find out more about you, what’s the best avenue for them to go to? Can they pick up stuff physically at places around the area, or should they go online? Or?

Natalie Hinahara 16:05
Yeah there’s a couple spots. You can find my things around here. So in Viroqua there’s a little art gallery right on Main Street called Viva. It’s a cooperative gallery. So I’m a member there. So I always have work there. And then there’s another little shop called Bonton on Main Street, and I don’t have like big art there, but I have like some of my earrings and cards and smaller things there. And then there’s also a gallery in La Crosse, the River City Gallery, I have some paintings and prints there. Those are the only like physical places where I always have stuff and then have a website which is just my name. It’s just And I’m on Instagram and that’s also just @NatalieHinahara.

Amy Gabay 16:59
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